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Younger People Fuel LA’s New COVID Cases

A line graph showing that unvaccinated people have nine times the risk of infection and 67 times the risk of hospitalization of vaccinated people in L.A. County.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Public Health Dept. )
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In the past two weeks, the median age of a person testing positive for COVID-19 in L.A. was 32 years old.

“This is essentially a pandemic that is fueled by younger people,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at her weekly press briefing Thursday. “Intermingling socially and at work sites is contributing.”

Unvaccinated teens had the highest case rate and are nearly eight times more likely than vaccinated teens to test positive for COVID, the highest of any age group, Ferrer said.

A bar graph showing children between 12 and 17 years old have the highest new COVID-19 case rate, followed by people over 50.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)
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While much of the Mountain West and northern states report full hospitals and a steep rise in new COVID-19 cases, L.A. County’s positivity rate has remained at 1.1%, almost the same as last week. The county still has substantial transmission, but has not seen a rise in cases in the weeks after Halloween, though the toll of the virus is still being felt.

In the past week more than 1,000 new cases were reported daily, while the number of people in the hospital remains nearly flat at 640 patients. In the last two weeks, nine people a day have died.

Ferrer stressed the importance of vaccinations, especially with the winter holidays and travel beginning. The difference in cases between vaccinated and unvaccinated people were smaller when there were fewer cases, such as in early summer. But Ferrer said, as our case numbers go higher, the increases are driven by the unvaccinated.

“This divergence means unvaccinated people now have nine times the risk of infection, 67 times the risk of hospitalization of vaccinated people, and this is a staggering difference,” Ferrer said.

First time vaccinations have increased, driven by the newly available pediatric vaccine for 5-11 year olds and booster doses, though racial disparities persist. Fewer than a third as many Black and Latino children have been vaccinated, compared with children in other racial and ethnic groups.

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California was one of the first states to broaden access to boosters for all adults, if they meet the federal timing rules: six months after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two months past getting the single shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Meanwhile, federal regulators will consider granting requests from Pfizer and Moderna boosters to be authorized for all adults as soon as this week.

“With about 4.8 million residents eligible for boosters, our hope is that many more individuals will be coming in for this additional dose before the Thanksgiving holiday,” Ferrer said.

A chart showing fewer than a third as many Black and Latino children have been vaccinated, compared with children in other racial and ethnic groups.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)

LA Nursing Homes Highly Vaccinated

Elderly and medically fragile nursing home residents and employees make up more than 36,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases in L.A. County resulting in 3,600 deaths, primarily among residents. In some facilities, more than 100 residents and staff have died of the virus since the pandemic began.

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Some of the first doses of the Moderna vaccine that L.A. County received last December went to nursing home residents in an effort to curb the extremely high case rate. In recent months, nursing homes became the focus of a booster campaign by L.A. County health officials, who report that as of Nov. 12, 97% of nursing homes in the county reported they will complete administering doses by Friday.

L.A. County nursing homes report that 96% of staff and 89% of residents are fully vaccinated. Under a state health department rule, all staff at nursing homes are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, those with an approved medical or religious exemption need to be tested weekly.

Nursing home residents are still vulnerable. In the first week of November, 39 people tested positive in county nursing homes, 20 of them were residents and 19 cases were among staff. Almost 70% of those cases were among people who were fully vaccinated. Four of the nursing home residents died of the virus.

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Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.